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Tandoori Chicken Quesadillas

Farheen Dayala puts a Pakistani spin on a Mexican classic.

Growing up, I didn’t have very many Muslim friends. That’s why I was excited to start university; I was finally able to join the Muslim Student Association (MSA) and make friends with people who didn’t think I was weird for not drinking or dating, or any of the other haram things I tried to avoid. On campus, there were always sisters to talk to and hang out with in between classes and I never missed a prayer because we always prayed in jama’ah.


It felt great to fit in for once and, other than classes, my life on campus revolved around the MSA. I began to develop a stronger Muslim identity, so much so that I found it difficult to relate to non-Muslims at all. Why would I need to talk to non-Muslims, I wondered; haven’t I always been told that good companionship is crucial to faith? I have my MSA friends and that’s all I need, I thought to myself.


When I began my fourth year of university, I realised how wrong I had been. For many of the students in my classes, I was the first Muslim they had ever known. And for some people, my hijab was intimidating. As Muslims, we can’t hide in our bubbles and expect people to change their opinion about us. I realised that I didn’t know how to interact with non-Muslims and non-Muslims didn’t know how to interact with me.


This is when I met one of my good friends, Ana, who comes from a Latin-American background. Her open-mindedness, kindness, respect and curiosity helped transform my perspective about on-campus involvement. We clicked instantly and I was excited and flattered to answer any and every question she had about Islam.


Through our conversations about Islam, pop culture, careers and culture, we both realised that we have more in common than we thought.  Our love of food was another thing that brought us together. While talking about my love for Mexican food, Ana came up with a brilliant idea of one day owning a Mexican-Pakistani fusion restaurant together as a tribute to our friendship and to the many similarities that our cultures share.


This fusion dish is one of my favourite lunch recipes. The process to make tandoori chicken can be lengthy so I keep cooked tandoori chicken in my fridge on hand. You can use boneless or bone-in chicken, but remember to only use the meat for the quesadillas.


This recipe is delicious because it has a classic quesadilla taste but with a spicy kick, and can be served with guacamole, chutney, chips, and samosas – really, it can go with anything!


Tandoori chicken
900 g chicken, cut into pieces
1 tsp salt
1 lemon, juiced
1 ¼ cups plain yoghurt
½ onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp fresh ginger root, grated
2 tsp garam masala
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp yellow food colouring
1 tsp red food colouring


1 cup Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
4 large flour tortillas
Tandoori chicken, shredded
2 tbs fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped



1. Remove the skin from the chicken pieces, and cut slits into them lengthwise. Place in a shallow dish. Sprinkle both sides of the chicken with salt and lemon juice. Set aside for 20 minutes.


2. In a medium-sized bowl, combine yoghurt, onion, garlic, ginger, garam masala and cayenne pepper. Mix until smooth. Stir in yellow and red food colouring and spread the yoghurt mixture over the chicken. Cover and refrigerate for 6 to 24 hours (the longer the better).


3. Preheat an outdoor grill to medium-high heat and lightly oil the grate.


4. Cook the marinated chicken on the grill until it is no longer pink and its juices run clear.


5. Combine the cheeses in a medium bowl.


6. Heat a large frying pan over medium heat for around 3 minutes. Place a tortilla in the pan and sprinkle with half of the chicken, half of the cilantro, and half of the cheese mixture.


7. Top with a second tortilla and cook until the underside of the bottom tortilla is golden brown in several spots and half of the cheese is melted, or 3 minutes.


8. Using a spatula, carefully flip the quesadilla over and cook until the underside of the second tortilla is crisp and golden brown in several spots and all of the cheese is melted – about 2 to 3 minutes more.


9. Slide the quesadilla from the pan onto a cutting board and cut into wedges. Repeat with the remaining ingredients to make a second quesadilla. Serve topped with guacamole, salsa and sour cream, if desired.